How does it feel to be longlisted for the International Booker Prize 2023 - an award which recognises the art of translation in such a way that the translators and author share the prize money equally should they win - and what would winning the prize mean to you?
It’s delightful to be recognised in this way, and I’m glad that the longlisted translators get to share the spotlight with the authors — though to be honest, I try not to think too much about awards in case it turns my head.
How long did it take to translate the book, and what does your working process look like? Do you read the book multiple times first? Do you translate it in the order it’s written?
I first encountered Zou Jingzhi’s book in 2012, and spent the best part of a decade translating it - because it was composed of vignettes, it was easy to do piecemeal, and I initially jumped around translating whatever I felt inspired to, before going back and filling in the gaps. I read the book multiple times in the course of this process, and of course translating is itself a form of deep reading.
What was the experience of working with the author like? How closely did you work together? Was it a very collaborative process? Were there any surprising moments during your collaboration, or joyful moments, or challenges?
I was introduced to Zou Jingzhi by another writer I work with, Zhang Yueran. She announced one day that she had a friend she wanted me to meet, and drove me to his home on the outskirts of Beijing. There, we admired Mr Zou’s calligraphy while he told us all about his life during the Cultural Revolution. He also presented me with a copy of Ninth Building. That was the only time I’ve met him in person, and though we’ve stayed in touch, we haven’t talked very much about the book. His voice is so clear, I haven’t felt the need to ask him any questions - the English came to me very intuitively. Perhaps this is the best kind of collaboration, one where we give each other all the space we need.